Film Review – Sound of My Voice
Sound of My Voice opens with a young couple preparing to meet a woman named Maggie (Brit Marling) for the first time. They enter an unfamiliar house, where they are asked to shower and change into white hospital gowns. They are then blindfolded and driven to another house, where they are escorted downstairs to the basement. We learn their names are Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), and they aren’t just there to meet Maggie, they are there to investigate her claim that she is from the future. Bad times are on their way, and Maggie has chosen a select few to guide through the darkness. They believe, as many rational people might, that Maggie is pulling a con on her followers, and they want to make an unauthorized documentary about her “cult.” They’ve been preparing for this face-to-face meeting for a while, and have developed their cover so well that they are welcomed into the fold with open arms. There are tests they will have to pass before they can be fully trusted with Maggie’s knowledge, and as they pass them, they learn more about what she really wants and how they fit into that picture.
If the film sounds a little opaque, that’s because it is—at first. There’s not a lot of exposition in this film; event follows event and we are given only the basics regarding characters and their motivations. Lorna is the troubled child of celebrities, looking for something to give her life meaning. Peter’s mother died when he was young, leaving him to fend for himself in an uncaring world. Maggie has come back from a future she describes as being brutal, but she doesn’t give many specifics, and even the reason for her mission back in time is unclear. Peter justifies lying to Maggie’s people by claiming that this cult is dangerous and needs to be exposed—an assumption based more on generalized ideas about what a cult is than any concrete proof of wrongdoing—but his real reasons seem to have more with wanting to make his mark on the world before he turns thirty. Or at least, that’s how it seems. Combine all this ambiguity with the stark presentation of the film, and you have an intriguing story pared down to its essentials; the audience never gets into the characters’ heads the way they might if there were more explanatory conversations. (Here’s an excellent example of exposition: the other day I was watching a great HBO movie about the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco called Barbarians at the Gate, and since many people in the audience didn’t know what a leveraged buyout was, the characters were constantly explaining it to each other. There’s not a lot of that in this movie.) It’s an interesting way to handle the film, because it makes the viewers work more than usual; it’s up to the audience to figure out how the puzzle pieces fit together. I was a little bored in the beginning, but as the film went on, I found myself getting more and more involved and by the end, I really bought in to this story.
Sound of My Voice is directed by Zal Batmanglij, and it’s written by him and Brit Marling, who also co-wrote and starred in Another Earth. It’s Batmanglij’s first feature and it’s pretty good. All the hallmarks of a low-budget movie are here: limited locations, small cast, and a reliance on dialogue instead of action. But these things work in the movie’s favor because they force the filmmakers to focus on the mystery of Maggie, and not on a bunch of extraneous plot points. Co-writer Brit Marling has chosen to write parts that interest her, rather than waiting for great roles to come along and hopefully convince someone else that she is right for them. And this script, at least, is both lean and inventive. Marling’s a good actress, but I’m more interested in seeing what she’s going to do on the writing side of things, especially since her last two movies have been in the science-fiction realm. I’m a big fan of genre films and enjoy watching great female characters in movies that aren’t just emotion-heavy dramas.
I had only the vaguest information about the film before watching it and I recommend the same for everybody else. (I have a crazy amount I want to say, but it’s going to have to wait until more people have seen it.) A lot of the early reviews for this movie give away things that I really enjoyed having revealed to me while watching, and that’s a shame; part of my pleasure in viewing it was the process of discovery. It’s not a perfect movie—there are pacing issues, the dialogue could have used another pass, and some things are just a little too clever—but it’s really good. Sound of My Voice is being released in Seattle the same weekend as The Avengers, and I know everyone is going to see that. But if you can, set aside some time for this movie too; it’s worth it.
Final Grade: A-